Britons Lack American Cousins’ Piety

by Albert L. Winseman, D. Min.
Religion and Social Trends Editor

John Lennon created a scandal in 1966 by saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Lennon's comment might not create much of a stir in his homeland today. In an international poll conducted by ICM Research earlier this year, just 56% of Britons said they thought God is more influential than soccer player David Beckham. Gallup's most recent data on religiosity in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States strongly supports the idea that Britain is by far the most secular society of the three.

Belief in God or a "Universal Spirit"

Gallup asked respondents, "Which of the following statements comes closest to your belief about God -- you believe in God, you don't believe in God, but you do believe in a universal spirit or higher power, or you don't believe in either?" A large percentage of Americans believe in God (81%), while 64% of Canadians and less than half (47%) of Britons say they do. Canadian and British citizens, on the other hand, are more likely than U.S. citizens to say they believe in a universal spirit instead of God (22% of Canadians, 24% of Britons, and 13% of Americans). Britons are the most likely to deny the existence of any higher power: Only 5% of Americans and 13% of Canadians don't believe in God or a universal spirit, while 28% of Britons claim no belief in either.

Importance of Religion

Given the findings, it's not surprising that Canadians and Britons are less likely than Americans to say religion is important in their lives. More than half of Americans (55%) say religion is "very important" in their lives and only 15% say it is "not very important." In contrast, only 20% of Britons and 32% of Canadians say religion is "very important," while 50% of Britons and 32% of Canadians say it is "not very important."

Church/Synagogue Attendance

Church and synagogue attendance is also higher among Americans than their Canadian and British counterparts. The percentage of Americans who attend church or synagogue once a week (28%) is nearly twice that of Canadians (16%) and more than double that of Britons (11%), while the percentage of people who seldom or never attend is considerably higher in Britain (76%) and Canada (62%) than in the United States (43%).

The Canadian Quandary

While Britain's secularism contrasts sharply with the United States' religiosity, Canada's religiosity is interesting because it's somewhere in between. It may be that Canadians are influenced by both extremes: Their historic relationship with Great Britain may draw them toward greater secularity, while their proximity to American culture may draw them toward greater religiosity. Or Canadians may simply rebuff what they perceive to be both the United States' religiosity and Great Britain's secularism. Whatever the case, the Canadian trend bears watching.

*Results in the United States are based on telephone interviews 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 2-4, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup USA.

Results in Canada are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 30-Sept. 6, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.  The survey was conducted by Gallup Canada.

Results in Great Britain are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 25-Sept. 7, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.  The survey was conducted by Gallup UK.

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